Settlements is one of the least enjoyable subjects for pupils, so it's time for a new approach with my 13 and 14-year-olds. I start by visiting www.flickr.com and type the word cities into the search box. Flickr finds several thousand pictures from all over the world, uploaded by hundreds of people. I click on Slideshow and pictures of cities start rolling over on the interactive whiteboard.
The pictures change quickly and generate discussion with the children - maximum impact with minimum effort.
We are going to look at how the places we live have developed over time. On the whiteboard I display the following task: "The year is 1500. On a piece of A4 paper draw a river going off the page and two tracks. The roads must cross at some point. Also draw six farmhouses and a watermill (next to the river). Don't forget a map key."
I give them five minutes and use the countdown timer in the whiteboard software so that they can time themselves. I also give a couple of digital cameras to two volunteers to take a photograph of their expanding settlement every time I issue a new instruction.
After five minutes, the next instruction appears: "The year is 1600. The tracks have developed into popular route ways. The village has become a market town and lots of people have moved into the area. At least 60 new houses are needed, another four mills, a church and shops."
While the children draw as many new buildings as possible, I upload the pictures of the first-stage settlement on to another computer.
After 10 minutes, the next instruction: "It's 1800, the industrial revolution. Coal has been discovered near your town and it's about to expand rapidly. You'll need to build a coal mine, some new roads and about 500 new houses, as well as shops, churches and schools for your population. Don't forget, keep as much farmland as possible." As they frantically draw stage three, I upload the next pictures.
After 10 minutes: "It's 1860 - and your town is going from strength to strength. You need to expand the coal mine and build five more factories. You'll need at least another 500 homes and other services for your population. Also railways have finally made it to the area from the east. The railway should link all your factories and the coal mine."
If they want to knock down buildings as they re-plan their settlement, they have to ask me first. A couple of pupils do this and have to explain their reasons and the effect on the population. But most forget about demolition and just keep building an urban sprawl.
After 10 minutes, it's the last part of the simulation: "It's 1900 and iron ore has been discovered. Your town has 20,000 extra people so work out how many additional houses you will need. Don't forget shops and schools."
Some of the class are really struggling but that's part of the exercise. Their square buildings aren't that square any more and I explain that when settlements are developed in a hurry, there are always consequences in design and quality. I mention Glasgow's tower blocks, built in the Sixties, as an example.
After another 10 minutes I stop the activity, upload the last photograph on to the computer and set them up so I can flick through them.
As we watch the sequence, we discuss the problems encountered at each stage.
Then it's time for homework. I ask pupils to play the computer game Sim City for two weeks. Using what they have learnt, they must build the best city possible and look after their population.
Ollie Bray is depute head at Musselburgh Grammar School in East Lothian
WHERE TO LOOK NEXT
http:simcity3000unlimited.ea.comusguide. The classic version of Sim City is online and free.
The PowerPoint presentation to support this lesson can be found at www.tes.co.ukresources.